To a gearhead, TV shows where cars are built, raced, or featured as performers can be tough to watch. The world of TV production and that of the accuracy-minded gearhead clash in the details, the storyline and sometimes just basic reality. Cause doesn't lead to effect as we expect, magical substitutions occur, and the process of creating an automotive work of art seems more from Harry Potter than a DIY garage. The shows aren't likely to change how they do things, but at least we can go over some of the worst case mistakes and laugh or cry together.
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Empty garage syndrome. The show's completed a bunch of great projects, and nothing seems to hang around for long. Where are they? Out back? Sold? Having completed cars hanging around in the workspace gives a feeling of continuity, of where we've been with the show's stars and what challenges and triumphs each vehicle represents. Without history, it's just a Groundhog Day repetition of living in the moment without the essential "remember when?"
This general problem is familiar to food show fans as well. Things are just way too easy, and the host isn't having to put in the effort we know is required to complete the job. If we're tackling a piece of big iron from the 1950s, a light touch is not going to remove the lug nuts. The automotive equivalent of a prep chef has clearly been sneaking in behind the scenes with fluids and heat to make the host look good with a quick turn of the cross-handle or a bzzzt of the air impact wrench which doesn't twist the stud off as well.
TV is all about appearances, as many of these items show. That means that, for purposes of the show, looking finished is what counts. A clay model would do it if this was old, grainy black-and-white TV. A lot of this issue is present in what doesn't happen: the first turn of the key after major work is probably not what they're showing, but rather how it starts easily and runs smoothly after they get it going and leave it running for a while. Gearheads know that clean first start is an earned privilege, not a prepared effect.
Just like cartoons, car shows are storyboarded so they can be edited in the right sequence. If something goes wrong in the shooting of the episode, they have to go back and film a step which is missing or drop it from the storyboard. What this means for us is a bit of in-your-face "they won't notice" flimflam as they polish a surface and then cut it, do engine wiring before parts are installed, or put the cart before the horse in other ways that those who've done it themselves are going to notice. Hey, wait, it doesn't work that way...
Some of the modding and pimping of rides could have and maybe should have been done with computer graphics. It's just not a real car anymore, not one you could take around the block or even drive for show. That's probably just a matter of saving time on show production, but if the project has left a lot to the imagination, it has left a lot to be done in reality. Let's not celebrate until the job is done, right?
Nothing is worse than dead air on TV except, maybe, them Duke boys getting out and fixing a bunch of flat tires after a hard landing. It would really steal the momentum from the show and so, in the producer's wisdom, the tires automagically reinflate and off we go. Gearheads, however, are left shaking their heads as they see rims bottoming out hard and then General Lee saunters off on fully pressurized tires. TV magic again.
This issue also has a strong parallel with cooking shows. There, the chef presenter goes to the oven and voila, a slow-cooked and decorated delight at microwave speeds. You kind of lose the audience when you do that, as people catch up and take a guess at what happened when the gnomes came in. The Christmas Morning feeling just isn't comfortable when watching a car project, as the host arrives and under the tarp the vehicle has been magically transformed. Who did it? When? With wands, or what?
A DIY garage show leads us through projects that we could do ourselves, maybe with a few borrowed tools from the local auto parts store. When the storyline detours to a fix which requires a $10,000 alignment computer, for example, or engine analyzer, machine tools, you name it but you can't afford it, we go off the rails a bit. How are the folks at home going to accomplish this? There's usually a way, but sometimes it's glossed over to our annoyed dissatisfaction.
You pay attention to the shape of your car, noting when something gets loose and checking it when you hit a bump or curb. A lot of people don't, it's true, and you can see them driving around with things hanging from the undercarriage, bumpers taped on with pieces missing, mirrors, turn signals, hubcaps all in need of replacement or attention. Thanks to the crew of the TV show, someone notices these things and takes care of them right away on shows with aggressive car action. Gearheads sit up and say "wait, what?" as the pieces, they mentally noted for later attention are suddenly back in place, often reappearing mid-car chase.
When Clint Eastwood appears with a mustache, his stunt doubles, should he choose to use any, have identical facial hair. People notice if they don't. And if one scene of Bullitt has the Mustang in green and other scenes have black, people are going to cry shenanigans. The differences may be more subtle than that, but TV shows do take some liberties in the details of "twins" such as interior equipment, drivetrain, and even front end and rear trim that aren't going to get by the gearheads.
The craziest mismatch may not be in the supposed twin cars used in production, but in the interior mockups which are used to film driving scenes. If the crew isn't paying attention when they build these, our hero can be driving a very different vehicle from the outside than he sees on the inside. Time to shake our heads, that just makes no sense except in TV-land.
General Lee, the Charger from The Dukes of Hazzard, got quite a bit of punishment during the filming of each episode. It's only natural that a car not designed for hard landings from midair get a bit of reinforcement, but when the shots they take reveal the extra equipment, gearheads notice. Anyone with a basic understanding of frame structure is likely to, actually, but if you're familiar with the underside of a 1969 Charger, instinct is going to tell you there's something not quite normal under there.
If you're familiar with Saturday morning cartoons from a few decades ago, you saw plenty of animation done with small-scale models instead of real cars and moon rockets. People have noticed that the producers of The Fall Guy gave in to temptation and yup, from some angles one truck jump looks a bit more like a Matchbox than a Chevy. The artistic folks who work in the movies can do a great job of creating models, so this may happen more often than most of us notice. Something to look for, especially in stunts that you know they couldn't afford to shoot twice.
Just a physics complaint here, aimed at any show with launches and hard landings involving four-wheel vehicles. This is not an aircraft, and landing perfectly on all four tires is not natural. There's no flight control in a pickup truck; it's pretty much left to nature based on how it took off with no adjustments mid-flight. So, a perfect landing should be exceptionally rare. It isn't.
This happens in closeups and for effects such as those in the movie The Blues Brothers, where a car chase in tight quarters gets even more nerve-wracking when the stars tilt from side to side and objects on the dash slide back and forth to show a wilder experience than one normally could have driving between steel girders. When TV and movie folks want us to get sweaty palms, they know how to fake things, so we really do. Except, some of us also say hmm, that shouldn't be possible...
You may have heard of the TV trick where wardrobe makes a tux fit perfectly using binder clips on the back, which works nicely as long as all the camera shots are from the front. Car shows seem to find their own tricks like that, including adjusting the height of a finished mod that came out too high by simply cutting the springs a bit or saving on project costs by not upgrading brakes, suspension and tires to match the drivetrain improvements. It's a common problem for do-it-yourselfers looking for a certain appearance, but on TV? It would be a great chance to come clean and say "don't try this at home."
In addition to the magical gnome visitation which rushes the project along under cover of darkness, there is also the sudden addition of a highly-skilled team to finish parts of the job. This is similar to the expensive equipment issue in that do-it-yourselfers get lost in the process when the team of experts takes over. This helps the TV project to get finished on time and with quality work, but it's a magic bullet that most viewers don't have access to.
Stretch it, lower it, add air suspension but think like an engineer when you start the project, especially for TV. Otherwise, you wind up with something cool which looks amazing in front of your house and cruising down the street but chews its own foot off when you try to take corners while lowered or doesn't have the handling to drive around town. The miracle of TV is that they can pull the plug on the cameras before somebody asks for a ride in it.
Monster Garage gets called out for this one because they do a spectacular job of destroying projects which didn't make it. They, and other shows which show their failures as well as their successes can turn this into a teachable moment and come up with ways to revive the project and send it in another direction, even if just in theory. If you've already done the work, why not think creatively? Gearheads in the audience would be glad to send in ideas. Turning all that into a crushed cube of steel is just so...defeatist.
Simple, but so annoying. There are all sorts of magical gadgets which allow Foley artists and other sound effects specialists to change what we hear on TV just the way special effects folks change what we see. For the shows like Starsky and Hutch which have a lot of car action and need consistent sound, it's so tempting to take something which "works" for the audio track and wind up putting manual shift sounds on the automatic Torino. The same goes for putting a nice low muscle car rumble on a modern supercar or otherwise mismatch in ways that give gearheads a headache. It is true, though, that some car manufacturers are guilty of a similar crowd-pleasing sin on their sporty vehicles and there's even an aftermarket gadget to make an electric Tesla sound like a Shelby running on eight cylinders.